FALL RIVER — Over the October 9-10 weekend, Pope Francis launched for the Church worldwide the journey towards the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops with its theme of “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.” It will include consultation in three phases, diocesan, national and continental, and will culminate in an October 2023 assembly in Rome.

At the request of the Holy Father and in union with bishops around the world, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., opened the diocesan phase of the Synod in the Fall River Diocese on October 17 in the context of the 10:30 a.m. Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral. The bishop celebrated a special votive Mass of the Holy Spirit Whose guidance and inspiration was sought for a fruitful synodal experience and outcome.

The term synod is derived from Greek and means a “coming together.” In the context of this 16th Synod of Bishops, it can be generally understood as referring to a process of discernment, with the help of the Holy Spirit, involving clergy, religious and laity, according to the gifts and experiences each brings.

Toward that end, all parishes in the Fall River Diocese were encouraged to also offer the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit at October 16-17 weekend Masses to unite all clergy and lay faithful with the bishop in this Synod process and to underscore the critical importance of widespread participation in it.

Pope Francis has invited the entire Church to reflect on communion, participation, and mission as necessary elements in fostering an overall synodal Church. It is to begin with broad consultations on the diocesan level through which all members can gather to listen and share on how the Church “journeys together” in proclaiming the Gospel. Synod preparatory documents suggest these consultations take place through a variety of ways including parish meetings, regional sessions, gatherings of ministries and apostolates, and special outreach to groups who have become distant from the Church.

In the Fall River Diocese these meetings will take place between December 2021 and February 2022, and specific information will be forthcoming in November as details are finalized. A Diocesan Synod Planning Committee is in place developing models for these consultations and resources to support them. It is headed up by Father David Frederici, the Vicar for Pastoral Services, working closely with David Carvalho, the Secretary for the New Evangelization in the diocese.

In his recent pastoral letter, “Journeying Together: With Jesus on the Path of Faith and Hope,” Bishop da Cunha wrote of this synod as “a powerful call to the entire Church” It is “an invitation to everyone … to be heard.”

The bishop pointed out in his letter that participation in the diocesan phase of the synodal process ties in well with overall efforts to bring a renewed focus on evangelization in the Fall River Diocese.

“This takes,” the bishop wrote, “all of God’s people working together, ordained clergy and lay faithful, all embracing both their universal and specific vocations.”

Reflections and feedback gathered throughout the diocesan synodal phase will be synthesized into a report and forwarded to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to become part of a comprehensive national report.

Ultimately, these national reports from the Church around the world will assist bishops and other participants who will meet at the General Assembly of the Synod in 2023 to formulate recommendations for consideration by Pope Francis.